How to Pray for Healing When Suffering
Humanity is plagued with brokenness, sickness, and death. We see evidence of this everywhere, through sin (both personal and social), diseases, socioeconomic variances, social injustice, and natural disasters. The consequence of the first sin sometimes whispers but more often shouts to us as a reminder that suffering is inevitable and universal.
God Longs to Heal Us
Despite this truth, God still longs for us to be healed through Him. The Psalms in particular remind us of God’s desire to heal us, which can be soothing to both the interior and exterior wounds we carry. Many of them start as lamentations, and yet they always end with praise, thanksgiving, and most of all – hope.
Consider Psalm 30, which begins with a word of praise to God, followed by the cry for help: “I praise you, Lord, for you raised me up and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help and you healed me” (Ps. 30:2-3). It is an act of faith, then, when we reach out sometimes in desperation for God to intervene in a dramatic and transformative way. Even when physical healing does not take place, emotional and spiritual healing may happen instead. Other Psalms that speak of God’s healing include Psalm 41, 103, and 147.
The Crosses We Bare
Because of our brokenness, we are all afflicted in different ways. Our road to Calvary is uniquely paved, and many times the way to our crucifixion (and eventual resurrection) occurs by way of a particular cross. For some, this may be in the form of psychological diagnoses, while others are stricken with chronic illnesses and still others suffer spiritually. Physical and psychological anguish are more easily recognized and treatable through modern medicine, but the deeper and more hidden spiritual sicknesses require divine intervention for the possibility of wholeness.
Physical and Psychological Suffering
The reality of suffering in this world is evidenced to all by the injury, illness, death, depression, mental illness, violence, etc. that we see every day and experience either personally or through friends and loved ones. We can and must pray for the healing of those who suffer physically or mentally. While there is no guarantee that their suffering and affliction will be lifted in this life, we are guaranteed that our Lord hears our prayers and answers them. God desires to offer us the healing that we deeply desire and need for ourselves; for those we know and love; and for those we don’t know, but lift up in prayer as our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, the healing that we are offered may not be a healing of the symptoms experienced by our bodies or minds. Healing of this suffering may never be realized in this life, even in spite of our prayers.
Our faith and hope are greatly challenged by the physical and mental suffering we witness in this world or experience in our lives. Physical and psychological sufferings can cause deep discouragement, fear, and anger. They can separate us from God as we demand to know how a good God could allow so much pain. More often than not, these forms of suffering are not chosen by those they afflict; and the victims are totally free of any and all responsibility for their pain. This fact adds a further challenge. The suffering of the innocent is a great mystery that we can only explore and grasp by reading the Gospels. Christ is the suffering servant—completely innocent, yet destined for the greatest and deepest suffering of heart, mind, body, and soul. He is the only one who can understand the depth of suffering that many face in their lives; and He is a testimony to Resurrection.
We must pray constantly and fervently not only for the relief of suffering, but for the perseverance in faith; the courage; the spiritual consolation; and a deep sense of hope for those that suffer. We are a Resurrection people. We must not accept that even the most horrific suffering can blight the promise of eternal life. We must not forget that, through suffering, we have an opportunity to participate in the salvific act of Christ’s crucifixion. Recall Paul’s mysterious words to the Colossians: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col. 1:24). Through His Passion and death, Christ raised suffering and death up to the heights of sacrificial offerings to God for the salvation of the world. He teaches us to do the same, and frees us from the chains of suffering and death as our fate—instead subjugating them as stepping stones to our true destiny: eternal life free from all pain. So, yes! we pray to our good and loving God for healing in this life. Yes! sometimes we are granted that petition (praise God!). And, yes! we pray for deep trust in God’s love and wisdom in answering our prayer.
Spiritual maladies exist in many forms. Some of the more extreme types can be in demonic interference and oppression, in which the soul is tormented deeply but not possessed. The common spiritual conditions that all of us experience tend to result from sin, such as pride that weakens our ability to see ourselves and others honestly or anger that prevents us from being open and vulnerable. Fear grips us to the point of being paralyzed, and we find we are incapable of loving ourselves or others. These all rupture our relationship with God and cause great spiritual suffering. Often the suffering that results from our own sins and vices is difficult to diagnose, since we desire to run from the truth of our own sinfulness. If we open ourselves to God’s healing touch, it is true that we may have to face ourselves in a painful way first. The freedom that comes, however, will always outweigh the discomfort of the healing process and is certainly what we desire most deeply.
Other spiritual wounds result from the sins of others, such as betrayal, loneliness, and ostracization. When our relationships with others are fractured in these cases, we feel the effects of sin without being the cause of it, and we may long for reparation and restoration through forgiveness and repentance. Other times we prefer to build walls of psychological and emotional safety around our injured hearts so that we will not risk vulnerability again. Either way, healing is possible and, in fact, necessary in order that God’s grace may fully work in and through us. What we truly need is to open ourselves to learning how to pray for healing.
Finding True Relief of Suffering
When we pray for healing, we often recite spiritually infantile prayers, asking God to remove the cause of our strife. We are single-minded in these types of prayers, which aren’t sinful or a waste of our time, but they aren’t prayers enveloped in a deeper understanding of what healing means in God’s eyes. If we persevere in faith, our prayers will change in time from petitionary to praise and thanksgiving.
A large part of prayer involves dialogue, which means we allow God to talk while we listen and then respond to Him with love. As our relationship with God develops, so do our prayers. We no longer merely pray to request that our circumstances change or that cancer or chronic illness is healed, but our hearts truly desire to know God’s will and conform to it, whatever that may be. Part of the mystery of God is that we don’t always know why He chooses to heal some people of their physical or psychological afflictions while others suffer horrendous and tragic ends. He is asking us to pray in a way that is self-giving rather than self-serving.
Praying for God’s will may sound clichéd and ring hollow in our hearts. It may not be a sincere prayer, and this is where we can ask God to grant us the desire to be at peace with not knowing if we (or someone else) will be healed in the way we want. We can – and should – be completely raw in our conversations with God. If we are angry or confused, we need to bring that broken spirit to Him in an act of faith. And faith does not require us to see or know an outcome, only to trust with complete confidence that our God is a God of mercy and love. He is a God who heals.
Isaiah 53:5b reminds us that “by His wounds we are healed.” Ironically, we must unite our suffering with the wounds of Jesus in order to experience healing. When we aren’t sure if God wills for us or our loved ones to be physically or psychologically healed, we can be certain that He wants everyone to be spiritually whole. In order for this to happen, God asks us to bring Him our exhaustion, headaches, body pains, infections, and infirmities to the Cross. The Cross draws our eyes and our hearts away from ourselves and toward the One who gave all for the sake of our wholeness.
Healing often occurs through the grace we find in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as in the reception of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Reconciliation is an act of humiliation to the human ego and yet a great act of humility to the soul. If we consider St. Paul’s words to the Romans, “For I do not do the good that I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rm. 7:19). He is speaking of concupiscence, which inclines us toward sin by our very fallen nature. Reconciliation provides an opportunity for us to face Jesus through the priest in persona Christi so that all of our facades built around pride and hardness of heart may crumble in this act of humility. We confess and repent, which paves the road to spiritual healing and wholeness.
Wholeness of spirit (healing) produces definite spiritual fruits, as well, including peace, joy, patience, and self-control. Spiritual healing may occur over time in a gradual and gentle manner, or it may happen quite dramatically, though this is less often the case. Most of us don’t acknowledge that healing has taken place until we are faced with perhaps a similar crisis or tragedy, and we realize that our interior disposition is drastically different than it was several months or years before, when we first began to pray for healing. Perhaps our attitudes, thoughts, and responses bear witness to this change as we decide to trust rather than fear, to hope rather than despair, and to persevere rather than give up praying altogether.
We know we have been spiritually healed when we are not shaken or distraught by disturbing news or circumstances. As St. Teresa of Avila succinctly and sagely advised, “Let nothing disturb you.” Our souls do not immediately move to worry and anxiety when we have been healed. We are at peace with the unknown and with life’s innumerable mysteries. Our peace does not falter whether we receive restoration of health or our health continues to deteriorate. That is when we know our faith has matured into a tenderness and quiet fervor based on love rather than selfishness.
The saints are ordinary people who chose to live extraordinarily. Many of the ways in which they lived and died are unpalatable and unfathomable to us because of the brutality and merciless nature of their treatment. What we can learn is their response to the cruelty, persecutions, and torments. We must recall the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mt. 10:28).
This is how the saints responded to the inhumanity and violence they experienced without despairing or succumbing to cowardice. This is why their lives are exemplary and timeless examples of incredible and heroic faith. It is because they remembered the flogging of Jesus and loved Him so much that they surrendered their own passion as a love offering for His Passion. They recalled the hope and comfort in Scripture and believed it in the midst of such contradictory evidence. They did not listen to scorn or doubt. Their souls were elevated to a place of confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises – not in this life, but in the afterlife.
When we remember that our bodies necessarily age and become weak, brittle, and frail, we are reminded of Jesus’ declaration of faith. We are not afraid of what seems like punishment to our bodies, because we are keeping our eyes on the Cross and the final reward of death in both a literal and allegorical sense. We long for our souls to be pure and worthy before God even as destruction may invade our physical bodies.
Patrons and Prayers for Healing
Many saints who suffered specific types of deaths have entered Heaven as intercessors for miraculous cures related to those deaths. This is another way God fulfills His promise of healing for us through prayer. We are inspired by the fidelity of the saints to the (sometimes bitter) end of their lives, and we want to emanate them. Even more, we want them to intercede for us so that we may adopt their courage through God’s grace by way of their intercession.
Here are some saints to pray for intercession with particular ailments and sicknesses:
Breast cancer – St. Agatha
Chronic illness and suffering - St. Lidwina of Schiedam
Diabetes – St. Josemaria Escriva
Headaches – St. Teresa of Avila
Obesity, Stomach ailments – St. Charles Borromeo
Pain, Suffering, Healing – St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
Stress, Anxiety, Mental health – St. Dymphna
Surgery – St. Luke the Evangelist
Wounds – St. Rita Cascia
When our physical or emotional wounds are not healed, we still have an opportunity to offer healing to others. Redemptive suffering in our faith offers countless spiritual merits, especially as we yoke our burdens with Jesus. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:28). The key to redemptive suffering is humility, the antithesis of pride. Being sick or incapacitated is an act of humiliation, which is an opportunity for humility. When we are rendered interiorly empty and exteriorly helpless, we may find ourselves ready to surrender our need to control life and relinquish it into the arms of Jesus through our pain.
Redemptive suffering is heroic charity, because it requires incredible patience through intense and often exhausting hours, months, or years of pain that is often invisible to others. The suffering is a mystical passion in which Jesus invites us to come to understand, live, and reflect the fullness of love that can only be discovered through the abolishment of self-aggrandizement in favor of self-abasement.
Praying for healing may begin with simple supplications or bargaining with God, but as we persevere in our faith, especially through trials that often confound logic or even God’s promises of healing through His Word, His grace will rest upon and within us. You will learn how to pray for healing through trying with a sincere heart. Always remember that no prayer is ever wasted or goes unheard. All prayers are answered through patient waiting. “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).